“In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Joe “Jody” Starks plays an important role by developing the town he moves to and developing the main character, Janie. Joe is Janie’s second husband, who she ironically meets during her regretful first marriage with Logan Killicks. Starks contributes to the novel by bringing life to Eatonville, and leadership to its people. Also, if it wasn’t for Joe’s version of love, Janie would have never realized the type of freedom she truly longed for. Joe transpired to be a false image of freedom and carefree living to Janie, but made her realize that she wanted freedom, love and a voice by restricting it.
When Jody and Janie run off to Eatonville, the first all-black town in Florida, Jody wants to be a big voice and make a big impression on the townspeople. Jody was a “cityfied, stylish dressed man with his hat set at an angle that didn’t belong in these parts.” (26) Jody is quickly loved and accepted by the community. He is determined and business-minded. Shortly after arriving in town, he opens a country store and is elected mayor. This makes an effective impact on the community by giving them a sense of structure and leadership to follow. Jody is symbolized as “the bringer of light”, or godly to the townspeople. An important contribution he makes to the community is putting the first street light in the town. Joe is so ambitious that he refused to rely on nature and fate to give the town with they need. He explained to the town that, “”De Sun-maker brings it up in de mornin’, and de Sun-maker sends it tuh bed at night. Us poor weak humans can’t do nothin’ tuh hurry it up nor to slow it down. All we can do, if we want any light after de settin’ or befo’ de risin’, is tuh make some light ourselves.”” (30) He is not content with only having light when the sun is up, so he takes the initiative to install streetlamps in town. This is yet another example of Joe taking matters into his own hands and commencing change. Industrializing Eatonville did not only improve the citizen’s quality of life, but also brought the community closer together. Because of Jody, people began to spend more time together by conversing at the country store. They shared laughs and amusing tales amongst one another.
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As a result of his social standing, Jody begins to neglect Janie. He degrades Janie and uses his social standing as an excuse, “”I god, Ah don’t see how come yuh can’t [run the store]. ‘Tain’t nothin’ atall tuh hinder yuh if yuh got uh thimble full uh sense. You got tuh. Ah got too much else on mah hands as Mayor.” (111) At the opening of the country store, Jody doesn’t allow Janie to speak because he does not believe women should be heard publicly. He justifies to her that, “”Ah told you in de very first beginnin’ dat Ah aimed tuh be uh big voice. You oughta be glad, ‘cause dat makes uh big woman outa you.”” (126) Jody establishes the idea that Janie isn’t an important woman because of her voice and should still be grateful that he speaks for her, but she wants to speak for herself. By denying Janie a voice, he is taking her power and freedom away. This is when Janie begins to realize she has not truly reached freedom or love. In addition, Joe’s pride at being a mayor blinds him of Janie’s needs. He places her in a position where she acts as his beautiful accessory or possession. From the outside, it seems as if Joe has a differing understanding of what of a woman’s role is from Logan because Joe believes a “”pretty doll-baby”” should be treated like a queen. He prefers that Janie never works, and to just be served by others because he says, “A pretty doll-baby lak you is made to sit on de front porch and rock and fan yo’self and eat p’taters dat other folks plant just special for you.”” (29) What the youthful, naïve Janie is beginning to realize is that Joe does not pamper her because he thinks she is a worthy human being, he pampers her because he believes she is a worthy object. Unfortunately, this behavior is not different from Janie’s first husband after all, who also viewed her as an object.
Jody becomes possessive of Janie and commands her in all aspects of her life, “”All you got tuh do is mind me. How come you can’t do lak Ah tell yuh?”” (70) When Janie makes the point that Joe never listens to her, he terminates the idea and brushes it off. Instead of addressing Janie’s point, he straightforwardly tells her what he thinks of women’s intelligence. In his opinion, women are incapable to think sensibly for themselves. That is why it is important for men to speak for them. Men must always speak for women and control their actions. When Janie began working at the grocery store, Jody banned her from talking to customers. He becomes worried and jealous of the attention other men might give her so he forced her to keep her hair up in a rag. Jody becomes bitter of Janie’s youth and beauty because he is frustrated with becoming old and weak. As Jody becomes more restrictive Janie puts up more of a fight. He buckles down causing her to do the same. This is the beginning of the end of their marriage.
After their many years of marriage, Janie is hit by Jody for the first time. Although they began in love with one another, Jody and Janie cannot seem to fix their failed marriage. Their marriage becomes filled with resentment. When Jody insults Janie’s body, she strikes back and humiliates him in front of the community by saying, “When you pull down yo’ britches, you look lak de change uh life.” (75) Janie was referencing menopause because she knew how sensitive he was in the subject of aging. Jody felt stripped of his masculinity, hits her and fled the scene. This instance exemplifies Janie changing as a character because of Jody. The Janie before Jody would have never humiliated someone like that, but the insults, control and other experiences that he put her through began to shape the woman she transforms into. Due to kidney failure, Jody becomes sick and confined to his bed. Jody’s illness made him so paranoid and frustrated that he accuses Janie of poisoning him. He did not waste a second insulting and degrading Janie. Until his last breath, he belittles her. When Janie looks back on their relationship, she does not remember it in a positive way. However, their marriage stands an important stage in Janie’s growing years. Jody’s toxic control allowed Janie to finally find her voice and take control of her independence. The poor environment that Jody had created for Janie helped her grow and develop as a character. Janie realized wanted to work, she wanted equality, and she wanted pure love. Jody played the biggest role in aiding this realization because he restrained her from those things.
Upon meeting Jody, Janie believed she caught a peek of the “horizon” (1) she had been chasing after. She thought she had finally found it with him. Although Jody initially allures Janie with his flattering remarks and focus on her beauty, things quickly take a wicked turn and he too ends up demoralizing her, and treating her as an object. Because of Jody, Janie is shaped and changed by the relationship, bringing her to a realization that would have never occurred if Jody had not been a part of the novel. Though love was lost between the two, Janie won the prize of self-awareness. She now knows that she wants many different things, including freedom, true love and the ability to use her voice.”